Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mahou Shonen Just Say No Chapter Eleven


"Kotomi-chan!" Kaiba greeted her friend as she approached the lot, and Kotomi looked up from her van.  She waved back with a wrench, then messed around a little bit more before she shut the hood, just clearing up anything that might cause a problem if she left it that way, and walked up to Kaiba, "How are things going with you and Sayaka?"
"Well," Kotomi wiped her forehead with a shrug, "I dunno.  We're mostly getting along fine, but that kid is stubborn.  She gets annoyed anytime I say that I'm worried about her at all.  I tried to keep her from going with the rest of Tokyo's magica to check out the lead in Nagasaki, but she wouldn't listen at all.  She probably wants to prove that she can go back there without freaking out."
"Of course she does," Kaiba laughed, leaning against the edge of the sparse chain-link which surrounded the lot, "Well, she'll be fine.  How about you, though?  How have you been in general?"
"Fine, I guess," Kotomi shrugged, stepping around to the other side of the fence to stand next to Kaiba, "I could never imagine going back to Korekara, you know."
"Me neither," Kaiba shook her head, then paused and corrected herself, "No, that's not quite right.  I couldn't go back there, but if there was some reason that I needed to... If I had to do it to help somebody, I could.  I wouldn't be okay after, though.  And it isn't like I... was even as involved as she was."
"It's kind of weird to live alone, after having Sayaka-chan with me for a while," Kotomi groaned, looking up at the sky, "You wanna live with me while you're covering Tokyo, Kaiba-chan?"
"I thought you'd never offer.  I mean, really, where'd your respect for your elders go anyway?" Kaiba laughed, slinging an arm over Kotomi's shoulders, "You're a good kid, Kotomi-chan."
"You say that to everybody."
"That's because it's what everybody I know needs to hear most."
   ~
Blade had never been more worried in its life, but even it was surprised by the panic that Oh One flew into when it finally decided to conference in that entire posse and inform them how it had absolutely lost track of their magica that it was supposedly keeping an eye on.  It had tried searching on its own to resolve the situation for a good five days before it gave in and called.  Still, it waited out its friends worry before it spoke again, "Oh One, I wouldn't usually tell you about this for posterity's sake.  I'm only telling <i>all</i> of you because if one of you knows, the others deserve to.  So, buddy, tell me.  Can you still detect what country the magica are in?"
"Oh, right," Oh One stopped its hyperventilating in seconds, then spoke up again, "Okay, well, I can.  They're still in Japan.  The weird thing is that I'm not picking up on anything else abnormal in the country.  Nobody new has arrived in the past month.  Even Lionhardt's back in the states."
"That is strange," Blem added in, "I'm trying to think about who would have reason to do something like this.  Marvelous, maybe?"
"Marvelous would make sense," Must Pope agreed.
SugarcaneSugarcane didn't, "There's no sign of our magica either, right Blade?  If it were only Red, then I could blame it on Marvelous, but even as a magical boy he'd never be ambitious enough to kidnap multiple people."
"And how can you be sure of that?" Blade questioned.  It was sliding its phone along the ground as it went, still searching as best as it could on foot.
"It's not like you're the only distributor who gets to know magica who don't belong to it," SugarcaneSugarcane answered, "I got to know Marvelous pretty well.  Skorgles isn't against it.  Well, it kind of encourages us to meet its magica, like somehow meeting them will make us give up on the rankings too?  I can never figure out that thing's motivations.  Anyway, the important part is just that he doesn't make sense to be the criminal in this situation."
Blade had to admit that SugarcaneSugarcane had a point, "Right, and if it was only Red who got kidnapped, the others would have let me know before they went looking for her on their own.  One of them would at least send me a text, and that didn't happen.  They all just sort of vanished into thin air.  At least Oh One can still tell they exist.  It's probably just something weird."
Oh One spoke up again, "Well... Maybe whatever's causing the others to be undetectable is also applying to a magica who decided to take ours hostage for some reason?  I can't imagine why any of this would be happening, but that is a potential explanation for it."
Blade sighed, "Even if I found them, what could I do about it...?  I just want them to come back safe."
------
Yuuri found himself in an absolutely empty landscape.  There was nothing in any direction.  He blinked a few times, took several deep breaths, then took a sweeping glance around before he simply shrugged and muttered to himself, "Well, okay."
It wasn't surprising to him that something like this would happen.  Well, it wasn't as if he predicted suddenly waking up in a land without anything else, or that he could predict that, but it wasn't shocking.  Not really.  Something like this should happen to him, because things always happened to him.
Not that everything he suffered for was something which happened to him, of course.  He knew this, he knew that he was just as likely to make himself suffer with a bad decision as something bad was to happen to him at no fault of his own.  There was always somebody to blame, though.  Yuuri decided in this case, that he would blame himself after all.  It was most likely that this was limbo.  Purgatory, an afterlife intended for anyone who wasn't especially good or especially bad.
Huh, funny.  Yuuri always expected that if there was a middling level of the afterlife, he'd still fall short of it.  Were Heaven and Hell the true and real concepts that his mother had taught him when he was young, and was there a limbo in between, Hellbound had always been his fate.  That was what his mother told him.  That was what he told himself, too.
It wasn't as if he'd grown into a fine young man who never sinned.  It wasn't as if he was a very good kid to begin with.  Still, he accepted limbo as a pleasant surprise, and sat down, crossing his legs.  It wasn't like he had anything else to do, he may as well enjoy it.  Nothing to do.  No obligations and no entertainment, nothing either way.  The idea of nothing was comforting, for a moment.  Then it wasn't.
Being alone with his thoughts?  This wasn't purgatory.  It was Hell after all, a specific Hell for him and his own definition of torture.  The traditional kind wouldn't work on him, after all he'd been through in life.  Instead, he would have to think, without any distractions.  No alcohol, no cigarettes, no fights to get in and no manga or trashy television.  No monsters, no friends, no baking supplies.
It was really just him, and he got to wondering.  How was it that he'd died?  The last thing he remembered was the train ride, chatting with Kanoshi and Sayaka.  She'd said that they reached their stop, stood up, then nothing.  Yuuri did have memory lapses on a somewhat regular basis, so it didn't shock him that he'd forget what happened to kill him.  Given the situation of his final memory, perhaps it had something to do with the train station.  Had he fallen on the tracks?
Had he thrown himself onto them?
He wouldn't put it past himself, but there was one bit which didn't line up.  He'd had an episode a week ago, so why exactly would he have another one so soon after?  Sure, he felt bad that he'd accidentally insulted Tsukune, but not that bad.  There wasn't anything he could recall which would have triggered a breakdown, but there was one thing he had to consider.  The episode the previous week.
Yuuri remembered the pain he'd felt, and he remembered thinking in that moment that if he were to know how it felt to die, that moment had to be it.  He'd been completely overcome; but one little scratch couldn't kill him, right?  And it wasn't as if he'd die of shock.  If he was the type to suffer a death like that, it would have happened the day he found out that his mother's actions were criminal.  That he was allowed to feel anger towards her and towards those men she invited into his room.
Still, it made sense.  If he'd died that night, then of course he would depart on a trip immediately after.  These versions of her friends were figments of his imagination to ease his transition from being alive, to not being alive at all.  Their stop was the afterlife, but... There was one flaw in that theory, too.  Why would his imagination create a Tsukune who would become angry with him?
So that was wrong.
Nonetheless, Yuuri wasn't going to discard the notion that he'd died, but he decided to stop entertaining the potentials.  Maybe he did throw himself in front of a train, for some reason, or maybe he died in some other way.  The time he lost always came back to him eventually, he just spent a few days or weeks wondering what he did in those hours that were absent.  It was a definitive absence, too, not just the vague concept of not knowing quite what he did between noon and six.  It was a conscious feeling of having nothing between those hours on that day.
He'd remember it sometime.  Did time even count here?  He pulled out his phone to check.  Well, the clock was still showing up.  He waited a while to see if the number changed.  It did, and didn't seem to be taking an especially long time to do so, either.  Well, that proved that time passed.  He checked while he was at it, but of course his phone couldn't get any type of connection either.  That wasn't surprising.
He put his phone away, then sighed and stood back up.  The least he could do was walk around, anyway.  Maybe this place only looked empty, and there was some other torture awaiting him somewhere else.  Even that would be better than just being left to his own mind like this.
And eventually, he did find something.  Well, not exactly.  He came across a slight difference in the landscape, that was all it seemed like at first.  Rather than flat dirt, it was a field of stones, all oval-shaped, and looking as if they'd be a pain to try and traverse.  He turned around, and the emptiness was broken.  Before him stood the director of Aoba Public Middle, who addressed him immediately, "Ruka-kun.  No wonder you never graduated high school, if you give up at such a small challenge as this."
"So I am dead.  Figures we'd end up in the same Hell," Yuuri narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms, "I thought I was done with you."
The director stepped past him, toward the stones, "Right, after you ordered a hit on me of course.  Too bad we've met again."
"I didn't order a hit on you," Yuuri protested, turning back to the stones.  He didn't want to turn his back on this man, not anymore, not right now.
"Sure you didn't.  What was it that the girl who killed me said?  If you didn't want her to kill me, you wouldn't have admitted to her the full extent of what I did?" The director questioned, then crouched down to the rocks, "If you deny your flaws like that, you'll never pass this trial."
"Trial?  I thought I was in Hell.  What possible motivation could I have to do anything?" Yuuri questioned, glancing at the rocks for just a moment, and when he looked up the director of the school was gone.  Vanished in a second.  Yuuri groaned, and turned his attention back to the rocks, only to realize upon closer inspection that they had words written on the undersides.  All sorts of words, though they all seemed to be some sort of descriptor.
Well, the motivation to do anything in Hell was for something to happen, he had to admit.  Even something bad.  Seeing the director of Aoba Public Middle was definitely not his idea of a good time, but at least that was something exterior he could direct his disdain toward.  It took him a long while of thinking again to figure out what the words on the stones could mean, based on the hint he'd received.  Denying his flaws.  With that in mind, he decided, it made sense that he should be expected to search through the rocks and pull out any with words which described him.
The first one that he found was only a few rocks in.  "Selfish".  Well, he definitely wasn't a selfless and giving man by anybody's standards, so that was his to claim.  He lifted it from the bed of rocks and set it to the side.  Nothing happened, and he sort of assumed that something would if he picked up one which he wasn't supposed to.  To test the theory, he reached for one which definitely didn't describe him.  "Pacifist".
"Yeah, I don't think so," His mother's voice echoed around him and the rock flew back into the pile, hitting his arm as it went.  So there was an indicator of how well he was doing, that was reassuring.  Sure, it was a somewhat painful indicator, but that was better than nothing.  If nothing happened, he was on the right track.  If the rock flew back to the field, injuring him while his mother's voice expressed disgust, then he was wrong.
As he continued searching through the pile, he didn't pick any of the wrong ones again.  It was pretty disappointing to him, that as he went along he was collecting primarily negative items.  Actually, all negative items.  Almost every negative phrase among the rocks was something that applied to him, though he didn't hesitate to grab them.  Still, when he thought he'd exhausted everything that described him, nothing happened.
He took a deep breath, then started grabbing things which he didn't personally think described him, but that others may think of him, starting with "murderer".  That one flew back to the pile, thank goodness.  He continued on, but couldn't find any more negative items which described him.  Did he miss a positive?  He'd only grabbed three, maybe four, because he didn't see a lot to like about himself.
"Yuuri," His mother's voice interrupted his thoughts, and he turned to see her standing atop the pile of rocks he'd pulled aside as accurate descriptors.  Well, it wasn't exactly her.  There was something off; she looked younger, that's what it was.  The woman who stood before him was his mother as she looked before she had children, "You know there's more than this."
"There really isn't," He shook his head, staring at the words.  He'd overturned all the rocks so he could scan for words without picking each individual one up, "That... That pile is all that I am."
"Hardworking, Skilled, Merciful, and Team Player.  Yeah, that's all you've got going for you?" Komaru questioned, stepping down from the pile, "Like you'd survive this long if you were this awful, with only those in your favor," She stepped past him, into the field, "But you know, I don't blame you for not picking up anything else.  If you admit that you have a trait which you admire in others, then you're dragging them down to your level.  If you can be as good as them, they can be as bad as you, yes?"
Yuuri refused to humor this apparition of his mother with an answer.  She was right, of course she was.  Yuuri didn't want to say that he was compassionate, because Kanoshi was compassionate.  Even as he did some things just for the sake of kindness, Kanoshi always did more than him.  Nonetheless, when he set the rock with compassionate written on it to the side, it didn't fly back out.
Likewise was loyalty.  Yuuri wasn't sure that he considered himself loyal.  He'd lay down his life for his friends, but they'd more likely do it for him.  Kotomi and Sayaka both embodied the idea of loyalty so much more than he ever could, but he needed to stop comparing himself to others. if he was ever going to get an accurate picture of himself.  After those two, he found another four, for a total of ten positive traits.  That number was still dwarfed by the negative traits, but he was uncomfortable even accepting that much was admirable about him.
"Good," Komaru laughed, stepping up to him, "I think that's it, now.  That's the thing to remember, though.  Even bad people like you have something good going for them.  I have my admirable traits.  That poor man you got killed had some too.  Everyone who ever hurt you had plenty of good things going for them.  Some people probably think they're good people."
"How could you say that?" Yuuri questioned, standing up and walking toward her, "You're not a good person, and none of them are either!"
"It depends who you ask.  Somebody who met me when I looked like this might think I was a good person.  Somebody who met me now will think I'm a bad person.  Someone who met me a long time ago and continues to know me now?  Who knows what they'll think.  It's all timing and priorities," Komaru moved closer to him with a cocky smirk, "But you wouldn't know about that, would you?  Nobody's ever thought you're good."
"That's because I'm not a habitual liar.  I don't spend my time trying to make people like me, or think that I'm something that I'm not.  If anyone wants to like me in spite of my being a terrible person, then that's their loss," Yuuri answered, raising his eyebrows, "The only people who could ever think for even a second that I'm good are the customers at the grocery store where I work, who would never know anything about me."
"You keep acting like you're fine with being a bad person, but the fact that you went straight for the negatives... For someone your age to be so aware of your flaws really means that you hate yourself for them, right?" Komaru asked, tilting her head to the side, "It took me years to realize I was bad.  And that's the thing to think about.  You're bad.  You will never be good."
"Of course I know that," Yuuri scoffed, slipping his hands into his pockets, "That doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.  Hell, I would never enjoy it.  I wish I could be different than this, but I can't change who I am."
"Yeah, Onii-chan?" Another voice spoke up, and Yuuri turned around to see Hikari standing there.  Unlike the apparition of his younger mother, she seemed to have more of an air of reality to her.  She appeared in the way that she likely would look at this point, at age seventeen, "I thought you blamed who you are on Mama."
Hikari Ruka
"That's obviously not true, since you turned out better than I did," Yuuri noted, stepping up to his little sister, "I'm just rotten, aren't I?  I always have been, and that's why she did what she did to me.  I wasn't good for anything else to her."
"I would have ended up the same, if she didn't go to jail when she did.  But the damage was already done," She got up on her toes and looked up at her brother, "But also, if she didn't go to jail when she did, you wouldn't have been free, right?  I bet, Onii-chan, you would have been poisoned by the way she thinks.  Maybe you would have even become so obedient that if she told you to, you'd kill someone."
Yuuri shook his head, "I wouldn't do that.  I'd never do something like that, no matter what."
Hikari brought both hands to her face, covering her mouth as she giggled, "Never ever?  But onii-chan, you didn't even know that Mama was doing something wrong in the first place!  A few more years, and maybe you would have been the one who murdered me, instead of the Vagrant Killer.  Don't you think it would have been more fitting if you got killed?"
"Of course I do," Yuuri nodded with a groan, "You never did anything wrong.  Maybe... I could have been infected by her.  Maybe you're right.  Who knows what would have happened if..."
"That's the thing, though.  There's no way to know what would have happened, all we can even begin to do is wonder at what could have happened," Hikari explained, then took a seat at the top of Yuuri's pile of descriptive rocks, crossing her legs, "What did happen was that Mama ruined your life, then got arrested, and I got killed.  You were totally left alone to pick up the pieces."
"I had a bunch of bad luck," Yuuri agreed, "And a bunch of undeserved good luck.  There were so many times that I should have died, and I didn't.  And I don't know why that happened.  Why I've survived so long.  Why you got killed, and I didn't.  Life's not fair.  You'd have been better off surviving, but instead I'm just here, this walking disaster.  I still don't even know how I ended up dying, but I'm not counting on it being anything other than self-inflicted."
"Onii-chan, I have a question for you," Hikari folded her hands in her lap, "What would you do if it turned out this isn't Hell?  If as it turns out, you're alive?  Are you actually going to do something with this experience, or just go back to your regular misery?"
"You already know the answer to that," Yuuri responded, sitting down next to her, "I won't.  I've never done much of anything that's worthwhile, and I never will.  I won't bother."
"Yeah, you won't," Hikari shrugged, "But there is one thing you should probably think about, okay?  One rock which doesn't describe you, out of all of these, was murderer.  You've never killed anyone, Onii-chan.  That includes yourself."
"Huh.  That's a good point," Yuuri nodded, leaning back.  He looked up to the sky, noticing that there weren't any clouds, or a sun.  It was just blue all the way, "I find it weird to think about, though, that it could be anyone's fault but my own.  There'd be no such thing as an accident when it comes to me.  If I fell or something like that, it would be a subconscious desire to be killed during the event."
Hikari closed her eyes, then slipped an arm onto her brother's shoulder, "That's the thing about dying.  You can never even know if it really happened, or how, if it did."
"We're not talking about me anymore," Yuuri stood up and turned to look at her, "We're talking about you.  I don't know if you're really dead, and it's never made sense that the Vagrant Killer would attack an innocent child.  Three innocent children, with one of them showing up again?"
"I know what you're thinking," Hikari nodded, "I know that part of you thinks that I got killed, and another part is convinced that I ran away with my two best friends because unlike you, I couldn't handle the situation at all, in any way.  I just ran away from the truth.  You stayed and dealt with it."
"Physically, sure," Yuuri clicked his tongue, "In fact, that trip I was making out to Nagasaki was the first time that I've left the Tokyo area in my entire life.  But... I've always been running away.  I even ran away from my own thoughts when I got to this place.  It's how I ended up here, with these rocks, and now it's all just making me confront my bullshit even more.  I'm always just looking for ways not to have to think about any of it."
Hikari stood up as well, then walked out across the field of rocks, holding her arms behind her back as she went.  She didn't say anything, but Yuuri followed her anyway.  Now that he'd gathered everything which described him, the texture of the surface wasn't accurate to its appearance, as if a sheet of smooth glass had been laid down across the top of the rock field.
As Yuuri followed along behind his younger sister, he looked around at the landscape which continued to be desolate and empty.  As soon as he looked back to her, she'd disappeared, and he was alone once more.  He stopped walking, and sighed, dipping his head to look down at the leftover rocks beneath his feet.  Well, he decided to at least get beyond the field.  He continued walking, then stopped as soon as he was on dirt again, and aimed his gaze out at the horizon.  There was still nothing out there.
There was never anything out there for him, was there?
He was afraid of that.
This whole time, he'd only been going on the idea that maybe by some miracle, there was something out there for him.  Something better, something good and pure and more amazing than anything he'd ever had before, but that was a lie, and deep down he was afraid that was the case.  It was the truth, though.  There was always nothing.
That was why he became a magical boy, after all.  Becoming a magica meant that your life was over, and he didn't even hesitate.  His life had never even started, so he wasn't at all afraid to dive into something like this.  It was a way of killing himself without really doing it.  Someday, a monster or some other magica would kill him, and until then he was just pressing on to try and avoid being hurt again, searching for something he knew he'd never find.
He wasn't really dead.
Maybe the fact that he wasn't really dead was what scared him most.  As a magical boy, wasn't he supposed to be able to avoid situations like this?  If this wasn't Hell, it meant that somebody had gotten the better of him to trap him in this place.  He hated that idea.  He took a deep breath, then pulled the bandages off of his arm.  His marking seemed unmarred, and he hoped there wasn't anything left of the injury.  He willed a transformation, and it worked.
He felt a little more confident with his revolver in his hand.  It helped, anyway.  He took a deep breath, then continued walking forward.  As he went, the hard dirt beneath his feet softened, eventually turning to sand.  He looked down and confirmed that it was, indeed, sand.  He kept moving, and looked up to see that there was an ocean out in front of him.
The empty landscape had given way to a beach, complete with seaweed and driftwood.  Yuuri had never been to a beach like this.  Not as far as he could remember, at least, though it was a rather generic beach that could easily be based on one he'd seen in a photograph or a movie.  He sighed and, despite knowing that sand and leather was a very uncomfortable combination, sat down.  The ocean was pure and blue before him, bright.
Out beyond it was something dark and shadowy, but he wasn't going to worry about that.  Not right now.  It was far away, and he was ready to face it if it got closer.  He took a few deep breaths, then before he could think about anything else, found his head immersed in the sand.  He forcibly sat back up, sputtering, then looked up the arm of the hand which had thrust him down, only to find that it belonged to somebody he didn't recognize at all.  Somebody he'd never even met.
He was dressed in a rather standard business suit, the creases pressed to his form, and he wore a look of disdain as he, without even seeming to exert any force, pushed Yuuri down again.  Yuuri fumbled for his revolver and pointed it straight at the mystery man, only to find that when he fired it, the man avoided it without much difficulty.  Without any difficulty at all, actually.  He fired one more time as his face was once more immersed in the sand.
He continued to struggle, but suddenly, he couldn't feel his right arm at all.  It was numb; more than numb, it felt as if it wasn't there at all.  Yuuri gasped for air and only got a mouthful of sand.  He writhed under the hand of this mysterious man, trying and failing to get any traction against him.  As he moved he only found he was burying himself deeper into the beach beneath him, until suddenly the pressure was gone and he sat back up.
The man who'd been holding him down was faceless; not in the meaning that he was insignificant to Yuuri, but there was a hole where his face should be, the edges of his flesh glowing like embers.  Yuuri just breathed, trying to compose himself, then took a look around, hoping that whatever had stopped his attacker was not even more dangerous and out to get him next.
The weapon was nowhere to be seen, but the person responsible seemed to be the apparition of his mother, the youthful version.  Nonetheless, the way that she was standing seemed off, an unbecoming posture of her, and when she spoke her voice belonged to somebody entirely different, "Now, Tatsuya.  That's very unbecoming, even for you.  Let's go, Yuuri-kun.  It's about time that we blew this popsicle stand.  In the figurative, metaphorical sense, if that wording's got you on edge."
"Who... Are you?" Yuuri questioned, getting to his feet and squinting at the figure who wasn't far away, but still had the very same appearance, with no flaws.
"It doesn't matter who I am, what matters is that I'm here.  Follow me if you want to live.  Or if you don't want to live, which seems more likely coming from you.  Either way, you're coming with me."

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Mahou Shonen Just Say No Chapter Ten


Ayodele Kayode was nervous.  Biting her nails, really, and it was definitely pissing off her sort-of, maybe, but not really boyfriend, who was being kind enough as to help her set up a website to utilize her newfound powers through.  She just couldn't help her nerves, though; it was a heavy responsibility she'd been handed, as Pretty Fighter Ribbon Velvet!  She was definitely not the first magica in the country, not even the first magica in Lagos alone.  There were plenty, but she still felt the pressure.
She had a lot riding on this, after all.
"Ayo, could you quit that?" Kachi frowned, looking up from his work with a glare in her direction, "If you're just going to be acting on your terrible nervous habits, you could at least have the common courtesy to act on them somewhere else.  Go across the room, where I can't hear you biting your nails."
She pouted, put stopped hanging over Kachi's shoulder and went to the other side of the apartment that the two of them shared, and looked out the window.  Lagos was a lively city.  She really liked it here; it was a shame that she'd have to leave, but Kachi was banking on it, and she couldn't bring herself to deny him anything.  It was almost like they were dating, but without any of the real romantic trademarks that seemed to come along with it.
Not to mention, dating was kind of a weird thing to do in the first place.  They were of a similar opinion on that matter, as far as she was aware.  Maybe it was because neither of them had grown up in the city, but in suburbs instead, where it wasn't at all uncommon for people they knew to marry before the word dating even dared to cross their lips.  It was simply a matter of prudishness, in that case, Ayodele thought.  Christianity was common in the southern states of Nigeria, and her family was no exception, nor was Kachi's, and the idea of abstinence until marriage could very easily be pushed to such an extreme of not daring to do so much as kiss before putting a ring on it.
Something that had to be the same all around the world was that cities would be more open than towns, and that was just a given.  With the population density, and people coming from all over, and people from all over walking all over the city at all hours, it was impossible to live in a bubble.  It was when she and Kachi moved to Lagos for school that Ayodele had realized her discontent.  It was the difference between the values her family espoused, and the values she'd met with in school.
It had taken enough effort just to get her family to let her come to Lagos for college, and as soon as she arrived she began hearing so many things which outright conflicted with her upbringing.  As she did, she grew apart from her family, but she couldn't really make friends here either.  She was caught in between, and her only lifeline was Kachi.  Maybe that was why she'd become a magical girl the day he said that he wanted to move to a different country.  Cape Verde maybe, he said.
She needed a way to make sure that happened.  To make sure she could go with him and make sure she could help.  Well, to make sure she could go with him.  If Kachi had the go-ahead to look out for number one, he'd find a way to pull it off.  Still, Ayodele didn't want him to go alone, but didn't trust in her own abilities to get there with him by her own power.  Now, it was different.
As a magical girl, she was above what anyone else thought of her, and if she was able to be as useful as Blade told her she could be, then it would be an easy ride.  She would never need to participate in combat, and all of the other magica would look out for her.  She could easily travel, and the ad revenue from the website, if every magica actually used it, would be more than enough for her to live comfortably.
It was a purely logical decision, becoming a magical girl.
"How's the website coming, Kachi?  Is what Blade wants too difficult?" Ayodele asked as she moved away from the window again, giving her friend a nearly-desperate look.
"It's not too difficult at all.  Your cat friend didn't want anything especially complicated, you know.  I'm perfectly capable of doing this," Kachi assured her, "In fact, you wanna go ahead and transform and I can start throwing some raw data in?"
Pretty Fighter Ribbon Velvet
"Huh?  Oh, yeah, sure thing!" Ayodele nodded, then pulled down her shirt to let the question mark on her collarbone breathe, transforming as soon as it was revealed and she was able.  She didn't much like hanging out transformed, because even though the outfit looked fabulous on her, the minute she changed she was bombarded by upcoming information.
"You feel okay?  Wanna start giving me some?" Kachi questioned, making sure he wasn't pushing her too far, "Maybe after you speak them aloud, the predictions will stop buzzing around in your head?"
"Good point," Ayodele nodded, "I don't feel good, but I'm okay.  Uh," She started giving out information, which Kachi typed in just as quickly as she could speak.  His theory was correct; once she said the predictions, they stopped buzzing, at least.  She didn't forget them entirely, but the urgency disappeared and stopped hurting her head as much.  Instead, it was replaced by a different urgency.
Ayodele clutched her arms around her stomach and gave Kachi a look of pure horror, then put a hand over her mark and transformed back, taking deep breaths and shaking her head, "I got through the monsters.  All of them, but it didn't shut down.  I saw... That something really terrible, and not a monster, could be happening to a group of magica.  Right now.  I didn't want to see that, Kachi.  I didn't."
"Okay," Kachi nodded, reaching a hand out towards her, "It's okay, and now we know.  The furthest you can predict out is eight months before you run out of monsters.  It also only seems to be predicting level five and above, which is how we got through all of them so quickly.  Blade said that one through four are really common, then five and above get progressively rarer."
"Blade!  That's right, I have its number," Ayodele pulled her phone out, frantically pushing her hair back from her face with one hand as she used the other to find the contact she'd made.  'Cat' with a knife emoji after it.  That was a pretty good description for an ugly cat named Blade, she thought.  She hit call, then shouted into the phone while it was still ringing, realized her mistake, then waited for the distributor to pick up.
-------
As Blade was stepping off the train along with its favorite magical girl and her adult friends, it noticed that the group's missing member rejoined them from the next car over, then started to vibrate in place.  It froze, then called out, "Red!  I'm getting a call, lemme step aside to take it.  I can run fast so I'll catch up with you before the next train leaves!"
"No problem, we were gonna stop and eat something anyway," Sayaka nodded, waving to it as she kept walking.  It found a quiet spot, then hacked up its phone and answered.
"Ayodele Kayode!  To what do I owe this pleasure?  Am I also speaking to Kachi Nigwe?" Blade questioned, but it immediately regretted answering in such a pleasant fashion.
"I worked through all of my monster predictions.  I gave Kachi all the raw data, and after I hit eight months out, I stopped getting monster predictions and suddenly started getting predictions about other magica!  I couldn't get specifics, but I think that some are in danger!  Something really bad is about to happen, if my powers are to be trusted..."
"Your powers are definitely to be trusted.  I, however, have no idea what to do about that.  If it's not related to a monster, and you didn't get any other details except 'some magica are in danger', then honestly, I'm not in a position to do or solve anything.  I'd say, you're an individual, so you have nothing to worry about, okay?" It was starting to panic a little bit, in case this ambiguous danger was another disappearance of unknown nature, "Don't panic," It could at least make the innocent messenger calm down, though.
"Okay," Ayodele answered, taking deep breaths audible through the receiver, "Just... I'm worried.  Can you call me again later and tell me if everything turned out fine, as far as you know?"
"I can absolutely do that.  Now, I'm missing out on table scraps!  Not that I get any nourishment from them, but they sure are tasty.  Gotta go, doll.  Seeya soon!" With that, Blade hung up, then looked up and across the train station.  It waited a moment, then realized something was strange about Sayaka's location signature.  Strange being that she was very quickly leaving its range, "...Shit."
It had just teleported all the way from San Francisco, so now it was stranded here while its favorite magical girl, as well as her adult friends, were a group of magica in danger.
-------------------
When Sayaka woke up, she was still in the train station.  That was what it seemed to her, anyhow.  She knew that she'd woken up; of course she did.  She hadn't stayed alive this long only to be unable to tell when she'd been knocked out.  When was it?  Right, she and the boys had just approached a fast food restaurant.  They were at the doorway, not in line yet.  That seemed like a conspicuous place to knock somebody out, so maybe she was mistaken.  This was a big train station.  It was never empty.
Not like single stops.  This was a full-on station.  There should have at least been a souvenir shop that stayed open all hours of the night, but she didn't see any lights, or any people.  That left her with one conclusion; this wasn't the station.  It may have looked like the station, but it wasn't.  Her first thought, with that in mind, was Lionhardt.  This area seemed much too large, however, and she wasn't even sure his powers would work on somebody unconscious.  Who else was there?
Sayaka had to admit, she didn't know Goddess's power, but even so, why would she even be on that girl's radar?  Perhaps she was after Zhou, or Kanoshi, with all their power built up.  That would make sense, because she was a power-hungry despot who built up strength just to turn more of her human followers into magica at her whim.  Still, she'd always played somewhat fair in the past, usually targeting magica who didn't make it on the rankings but still had a good amount of power to be gathered.
It didn't make sense for her to change that M.O. now of all times, so Sayaka discarded the possibility.  She discarded all possibilities.  It wouldn't make sense for her to just keep pondering what this situation could mean, when she should have just been figuring out how to get out of it, and what she could do to accomplish such a thing.  She decided it wouldn't be straightforward; she could not escape up the stairs.  The stairs hardly even looked real, blurry.
Instead, she decided, she'd have to go through the train system.  It switched between underground and aboveground in many places, after all.  She'd just follow the tracks until she saw sunlight again.  Or moonlight.  She didn't know how long she'd been out, after all.  With a sigh, Sayaka made her way to the tracks and hopped down, finding a maintenance path that she could walk along.  That was convenient enough, and she pushed thoughts of confusion out of the way for now as she just made her way along, one step at a time.  It was just one step at a time.  Nothing else mattered right now.
It wasn't like she hadn't been in weirder situations.  Hell, this situation wasn't entirely unlike her own power of the illusory maze.  With that, she found her mind wandering again despite her best efforts.  What if this tunnel just went on forever?  What if this place was some sort of honest-to-goodness pocket dimension, and it was also where Stripe and all the rest of the best magica had been taken?  Had the kidnapper decided they were unsatisfied and decided to take second best?
That was one thought Sayaka couldn't banish from her mind.  All the others, she had a good argument against, but the idea that she had joined the ranks of magica who vanished without a trace... She didn't stop walking, but she pulled her phone out to see if she could get some service.  Nothing, not a scrap of cell service, let alone 4G or wi-fi.  She pouted to be without those things, but the phone still worked, so she decided to distract herself from all the walking with one of the less-internet-dependent mobile games she had downloaded.
Sure, she didn't play anything NEET-y like SIF or DGF, but everyone had at least one time-wasting mobile game they liked.  In Sayaka's case, she was fond of match puzzles.  Bejeweled knock-offs, one might call them, though she had no idea if that was actually the first iteration of these match puzzles.  In any case, with such a huge initial download, she had to have at least a hundred more maps to burn through after the ones she'd already completed.  This was a good one which used ads instead of in-app purchases, so she could play right up until her battery burned out.
Though, playing them with no internet connection and thus no way to show the advertisements was sort of taking advantage of the app developers' good faith, but she didn't care right now because it wasn't like she had a choice in the matter.  The game served as a good distraction for about an hour of walking before her phone's battery hit 15% and she decided to preserve that remaining bit in case, by some miracle, she came across service after all.  She tucked her phone away and looked around, only to freeze where she stood.
She hadn't reached the surface without realizing in her engrossment with the game, no, she hadn't done anything quite like that.  She thought it was worse, however.  She looked around the subway only to see, that while she was busy ignoring her surroundings, they had shifted quite dramatically.  The walls no longer looked anything like walls at all.  In fact, they looked like hands.  So many hands, all of them reaching, reaching out toward her.
Sayaka could almost swear, now, that she heard some sort of disgusting, visceral sound.  It was the kind of scream that could only come of a man being tortured, but it was both distant and omniprescent all at the same time.  It surrounded her with all its power, but the sound itself was quiet, too quiet.  As if, no matter which direction she looked, she would be too late to save whoever was screaming.
She swallowed her concern and adjusted her backpack before she continued walking, hunched into herself now.  She didn't want any of those hands touching her, she knew that much beyond absolutely any shadow of a doubt.  They looked like the type of hands which would gladly stick themselves into all manner of places without a second thought.  At the same time, they were the hands of businessmen on the subway, the hands of that director of the middle school that Yuuri went to, and the hands of... Him.
The first man she'd killed.
"Kiyoteru Tanaka!"
Kiyoteru Tanaka
Just as Sayaka thought it, she could have sworn that she heard his name shouted down the tunnel with confidence.  Just his name, in an unassigned voice, but if that much could happen, she became concerned that the next time she heard it, it would be in his own voice.  She sped up now, running down the path, only to find that the further she went, the narrower the walls got.
She couldn't bear to get any closer, so she stopped.  She stopped and made the mistake of turning to look behind her.  As soon as she'd turned around, there he was, in front of her.  He seemed so tall.  He seemed just as much taller than her as he'd been the first time they'd met, when she was six and he was alive, and he referred to himself as 'the better type of lolicon'.  She wanted to say she wasn't afraid of him.
She wasn't, but the minute he appeared, she still shut down.  It wasn't fear, but still a defense mechanism, she became solid and blank.  Vacant, feeling almost like she was only a long-dead ghost possessing her own body, because that was better than being real before him.
"Hello Sayaka-hime," He spoke, tilting his head to the side, "I see you've become a magical girl.  Ever the perfect princess for me.  Would you like a candy apple?"
"I don't like apples," She answered without inflection, as she would do through the entire conversation.  She knew by now that this couldn't be real, but that didn't mean she wasn't feeling the impact of having this man stand before her.
"They're red."
"I don't like apples."
"But they're red."
"But I don't like apples."
"Okay.  How about a lollipop?"
"Sure," She took it from him and put it in her mouth.
"I fooled you.  The lollipop is apple-flavored."
"You're wrong," She answered, staring him down with her grey eyes glassy, "That's the thing with lollipops.  They're always cherry.  No matter what the label says or what color they are.  Green, or purple, it's all the same.  It's just cherry."
"Clever," Kiyoteru chuckled, leaning down to look her in the eyes, "Will you spend another night with me, Sayaka-hime?"
"No, oji-san, I'm a lesbian," She answered, standing her ground.  A step in any direction would be her downfall.
"You know, in the real world, you wouldn't be able to deny me if I ordered you to," He stood up straight again, smirking.
"So you admit this isn't the real world.  What is it?  It's good for you that it's not real, because in the real world, I know you're dead.  I killed you."
"You can say that," Kiyoteru shrugged, "But you know now, don't you?  There's no way to be sure anymore.  The dead can return.  You've even teamed up with an aspiring necromancer, so how can you be sure that I'm still dead?"
"I can't be sure, but who's to say you'd ever find me?" Sayaka shot back, though she still didn't betray any emotion in her voice or face.
"Good point, but I should also tell you, I wouldn't waste my powers just to get you back in bed with me, Princess," Kiyoteru cocked an eyebrow, "I could make you do anything, you know.  Even kill your friends.  Any of them.  Good, or very good.  Ones you protect, or ones who protect you."
Sayaka finally broke through her dissociative state and glared at him, speaking with conviction, "I would never do something like that, no matter what powers you supposedly have!"
At her harsh words, Kiyoteru seemed to disappear into mist, one piece at a time, floating away.  She took a deep breath, then stood up straight and turned back around again, ready to face the narrowing tunnel now that she didn't have the looming dread that Kiyoteru might suddenly appear behind her.  The tunnel was gone, though.
Instead, all she saw before her were buildings.  Familiar buildings.  She was back in Tokyo.  Had she still been under the impression that this was reality, or even some distortion of it, then she might have been surprised.  As it was, she was piecing together a new theory.  Nobody else knew about Kiyoteru, and certainly didn't know enough to create such a pointed dialogue from him.  Whatever this situation was, it was something of a nightmare.
Created from her mind, anyway, but it was far too real to be a dream.  There was a particular feeling to being awake, to being truly awake.  She felt that right now, and so she knew, there was no way that this was a dream.  She was moving throughout it, wholly, herself.  Thus, she came to one probable conclusion.  If she died in this nightmarish setting, she would die in real life.  It wasn't an unusual idea; plenty of premises of dying within alternate worlds in which death should be safe existed as fiction, and there was no way to disregard something like that in this day and age.
Sayaka knew now that she was at least making some type of progress, so she continued on into the city which looked like Tokyo.  Certain details were perfect, and others were merely loose interpretations.  More proof, she decided, that the information to create this world was coming from her own thoughts.  She'd been living in the city for a while, and she was good at memorizing layouts, but Tokyo was a big place.  Anywhere she knew well, seemed to be just fine.  Anywhere she didn't go to often, wasn't.
Sayaka had absolutely no idea where she ought to go next, however.  She went to the apartment building where Yuuri and Kanoshi lived, the insides of their apartments bare and lacking when she pushed the doors open.  She didn't know what sort of wallpaper or carpeting there might have been inside either of their homes.  Kanoshi's had a computer, which when she tried it out lacked internet connection and seemed to have nothing but video games installed, not even default programs.
There was a kotatsu, too, in the middle of the floor, and that was the extent of the possessions that Sayaka knew Kanoshi owned.  Yuuri's didn't even have a single piece of furniture, but a few scattered liquor bottles, cigarette butts, and pocket knives.  She found that a little absurd.  Of course the two of them had furniture, but she supposed it was only the things that she knew for certain they owned, with some small amount of detail.
Depressing.
She stepped out of Yuuri's apartment and closed the door, then hopped out onto the fire escape of the building.  She realized she hadn't even thought to test if she could transform here, so she pulled her t-shirt over her head to reveal the marking and willed the transformation to happen.  It did, which she was glad for.  Now she could travel more freely through the city.
Sayaka's first additional stop was her favorite sweet shop.  It was empty of people, but the counters were fully stocked.  She looked back and forth, then jumped behind the counter and slid it open, filling one of the store's pastry boxes with strawberry cupcakes, red velvet cookies, and crimson-colored raspberry mochi.  Plus, a few other sweets too.  It wasn't as if she only liked red food, she just found a lot of them to be her favorites.  All sorts of flavors could satisfy her sweet tooth, though.  All sorts but apple.
With the box full of sweets that she already started eating as she walked, Sayaka made her way towards her next stop.  The empty lot that Kotomi had repurposed into a home seemed like it could have some sort of significance, so she approached it.  She was just walking this time, so by the time she reached the lot, she'd finished off her box of sweets and dropped the empty cardboard into a convenient dumpster.
The lot was empty.  Well, that much was evident, because it was considered empty at all times given that it had absolutely no property value anymore, but what stood out to Sayaka was that Kotomi wasn't there.  She checked the storage units, and none of her stray cats were either.  It was yet another meaningless layout.  Nothing happened or changed around her.  After what happened with the tunnel, she knew there had to be something somewhere which would change.
She couldn't just be stuck here, alone, for all time?  What if she'd had the chance to escape by interacting differently with Kiyoteru, and she squandered it?  Was this empty, lonely Hell of howling winds and desolate streets her grave?  The concern from earlier that this was the result of a disappearance similar to the others came creeping back.
Was Stripe dealing with an equally empty version of the Hollywood Hills, wandering it without anybody to yell at over not being vegan?  Well, she kind of thought he'd deserve it, but there were others.  Fizzy Pop, and Horace.  Sayaka didn't know either of them very well, but she felt that they wouldn't deserve something like this.
She didn't deserve something like this, herself.  She really didn't.  She wasn't a bad person.  She would still be in the top hundred, even without Blade's ability to reduce the damage done by reputation-harming actions.  She had to wonder if the same thing had happened to her friends, or if they were back in the real world, wondering where she'd gone?  If nobody else would, Blade would worry.  It was kind and friendly to her, and she was its favorite.  She believed it when it said that.
With this thought, she took a deep breath, then took off in the direction of the nearest subway stop.  She found it, and as expected, there was a train waiting there.  She stepped up to it and boarded, sitting down.  She and Blade often had conversations in subway cars that they got all to themselves thanks to her obvious magica presence, and Blade's obvious distributor existence.
It pulled away from the station at a breakneck pace, faster than it ever seemed to move.  Though it didn't appear to be that way, it seemed as if there were no walls on the front of the train by the way that as soon as it began to move, she felt a heavy breeze from that direction throwing her hair to the side.  She braced herself by grabbing onto the pole by the door, shifting over to sit as close to her anchor as possible.
"You're wondering what's going on, aren't you?" Blade appeared in the seat across from her.  Well, not quite.  It looked like Blade at first glance, but if Sayaka focused, was off, somehow.  As if it had some small features moved a few millimeters over.
"I am," Sayaka answered, pulling her legs up onto the seat, "I know this place isn't real... But what is it?  Where have I ended up?"
"I'm sure that you've got a lot of theories.  You're worried that this is a disappearance like the ones which happened to each distributor's highest ranking magica.  That's understandable.  You don't want to believe that you've been kidnapped again.  No matter the nature of this place, you were.  You were kidnapped.  It happened again.  That's because you are a victim.  No matter what you do or how many people you kill, you will never shake that fact.  You are a victim.  You will continue to be victimized for your entire life.  Knowing that, why did you decide that you should never die?"
"Blade would never say such a thing to me," Sayaka clenched her fists, refusing to look at this poor recreation of the creature she considered one of her closest friends.
"It's funny that the place which you consider home is Tokyo," It chuckled, "But I guess that's because you can't go back to Kobe.  And you think you could go back to Nagasaki, but nothing waits for you there.  Do you think that going there will excuse you from someday telling those friends of yours why you really became a magical girl?  That they'll figure it out just by going to the place where you once came close to death, to escape?"
Sayaka shifted in her seat, leaning on her hand, "They're not such good friends that they ever need to know."
"Oh really?  Is that so?" Blade questioned, its head turning a good ninety degrees in one moment.  The movement wasn't there at all; it just changed to that appearance.  Sayaka had been trying to avoid looking at it, but she still saw this, and grimaced, "If they're not such good friends, then which one of them will you watch die, I wonder?"
"W-What!?" Sayaka questioned, only to find her head involuntarily turned to look to the left, where the breeze was coming from.  Instead of the wall, now, it seemed to be some sort of screen.  She went to look away, but found that she was frozen in place and couldn't move at all.
"If you don't care, as much as you claim you don't care..." Kanoshi appeared on the screen, aiming these words at her as he stood there.  She squinted, only to see that there was a bullet hole straight through his eye.  The eye that held his mark, of course, "Then what do you care?"
"Yeah, Yamaguchi-chan," The image shifted to Yuuri now, on his knees and clutching a stump of a right shoulder, "If you're so much more competent than all of us, doesn't that mean that before anything could kill you, you'd have to see us all die first...?"
It changed once more, to Kotomi, but much older than she was, "And of course you'll outlive a human like me, too.  Someday, you will be all alone.  Everyone will abandon you, just like the obayun did."
Sayaka squeezed her eyes shut and shouted, "Kotomi doesn't know about that!  The least you could do is make this shit make sense!"
"But we're just getting started, Sayaka," The thing which tried to resemble Blade spoke, "You've got a lot to unpack, Princess."
And behind her, the next train car down, suddenly exploded, bringing the train to a halt.  Her hair settled again, and she turned to see what had just happened.
"Follow me," A man who looked, but didn't sound at all like Kiyoteru Tanaka spoke.
She listened.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mahou Shonen Just Say No Chapter Nine


"You're really going?" Kotomi questioned, frowning as she pulled open a can of beans that she fully intended to straight-up drink, "I mean, isn't this totally not your assignment, or whatever?  Do I need to call Kaiba-chan?"
"No, you don't," Sayaka rolled her eyes as she finished packing things up into a bag, provisions and the like, "Kaiba-nee doesn't ever need to know that I'm doing this.  I'm not breaking any rules, Blade is fine with me doing it, and you should be too, Tanako-chan.  We both know that I'm more capable than any of those idiot men, if they run into any real danger then they're going to need me there."
Kotomi sighed, stretching one arm out above her head as she lifted the can of beans to her lips, but didn't consume any yet, talking over the edge of it, "You can say that, and I guess I appreciate what you're doing for Rukkun and all, but I still think you'd be better off staying here..."
"Since when do you worry about me?" Sayaka questioned, turning to look at Kotomi.  She glared while her benefactor downed the beans.
Once Kotomi had finished chugging the entire can of beans, she answered, "I worry about you since what happened to him, okay?  I look at you, and I see a kid who's in over her head.  The others are adult men, and maybe you are better at combat than them, but they're more prepared to handle the consequences of their decisions, you get me?"
Sayaka scowled, "You're only what, four years older than me?  You graduated the year before I got to high school.  You can't say I'm a kid in over my head when you and Rukkun are hardly adults to begin with."
Kotomi groaned, tossing the now-empty can to the side and adjusting her mask back on now that she was no longer eating, "I can say that, and I am saying that.  Plus, I may be twenty, but I ain't a magica.  Chew on that, yeah?  Don't lump me and Rukkun together when we both know I'm better at making life-altering decisions than he is."
Sayaka Yamaguchi (Summer)
"Oh, shut the fuck up," Sayaka brushed her off and shrugged the backpack onto her shoulders, "You know I don't have any regrets.  I never will.  Yeah, I know what happened to him, and I don't care.  I've endured plenty of pain in my life, if my mark ever got hit, I'd endure that too.  It isn't like I'm about to die.  Nobody has ever died while in the top 30."
Kotomi stood up and reached out, grabbing Sayaka's knapsack from behind, "Maybe so, but you know what has happened to people in the top 30?  Mysterious, unsolvable disappearances.  So forgive me for not exactly having faith in you based on your <i>ranking</i>."
Sayaka spun back around, snapping, "Stop acting like you understand!  You're not a magical girl, and you just live your life free and easy from one job to the next.  You're not in any position of authority over me, and as grateful as I am for it, I never needed your pity!  Let me be."
"...Fine," Kotomi sighed, releasing her grip on the backpack to turn away, looking at the ground with a defeated look, "You're right.  I don't understand, and I never will.  Just be careful, okay?  Please be careful.  Or as careful as you can be.  I don't want to be the one to explain to Kaiba-chan that I let you go get yourself killed, okay?"
Sayaka laughed, shaking her head, "I won't get killed.  You won't have to tell Kaiba-nee anything."
"Have fun storming the castle," Kotomi gave her final, good-natured offer of a goodbye, and Sayaka nodded before she transformed, leaping up onto a nearby building to make her way towards the train station that she and the rest were departing from.  The train trip to Nagasaki prefecture from Tokyo was a long one with a number of transfers, but it was the only option for a group of five magica.  One magica could get through airport security with some extra measures, but a whole group would definitely be denied flight on the same plane.  Too risky.
Sayaka arrived at the train station in good time, and she was the second of their group to arrive.  She landed nearby, transformed back, and walked the rest of the way.  Upon arrival, she spotted Tsukune, who was standing there beside a woman who she recognized, oddly enough.  She wasn't expecting to recognize that woman, but she did, and she approached the pair of them, hands clasped behind her back, "Shirato-san!  I didn't know that you knew Madara-kun."
"Hm?" Kyoko looked down, being a good deal taller than Sayaka, then offered her a smile which seemed quite forced, "Oh, Shinku-chan.  It's a pleasure.  I can't say I expected to see you here!"
Sayaka froze, then tilted her head to the side, "Oh, I don't use that name anymore.  Didn't you hear when I was on the list of survivors?  My real family name is Yamaguchi.  Anyway, Madara-kun and I met a few months ago.  How do you know each other?"
Kyoko shrugged, "After Korekara, I was kind of homeless.  I mean, we all were.  Headmaster Kira didn't give a damn about us survivors after that happened... I decided I needed a roommate, and he was on the streets too, so I decided if I was going to claw my way out of Hell, I may as well be kind enough to bring somebody with me," She laughed a little, "Don't worry, just because he's a homeless guy several years older than me doesn't mean he's doing perverted things to me!"
Sayaka glanced around, then smirked, "Honestly, Shirato-san, I would worry about it the other way around.  Last I checked, Madara-kun is a very nonthreatening adult man.  You, on the other hand, are a very threatening adult woman," She turned to Tsukune, her tone still joking but with a slightly concerned undertone, "Madara-kun, show me on the doll where Boss Idol Kyoko touched you."
"She leaves me alone, Red.  Don't worry," Tsukune crossed his arms over his chest, looking between them, "I can't say that for most people she meets.  A real man-eater, this one, but I'm safe.  Anyway, I hope you don't mind, she wanted to visit another city along our way, I couldn't be bothered to remember which one, so she's getting on the same train as us."
Sayaka adjusted her backpack, "Why would I mind?  It's not like it matters to me.  I don't care about the five of us as a unit at all, it'd be Moron-sensei that you'd really have to run it by.  He's the one who keeps thinking we're a team.  Him and Rukkun, anyway."
"Right," Tsukune mumbled, shifting between his feet.
Kyoko paused a beat, then looked between the two of them, coming to a conclusion, "Oh!  I get it.  Okay, so that's what this is about.  Jesus Christ, there's five of you in this city?  I can't decide if that number is absurdly low or absurdly high.  I kind of thought that Tokyo was more of a hide of scum and villainy, but I also can't say I thought there were that many of you."
"Don't talk so loud about it, we're in public," Tsukune chided Kyoko, and she actually took a step back physically, seeming to signal her backing down socially as well as her posture turned to a more relaxed one, "And stop acting like I'm the only one who's not a criminal."
"Well..." Kyoko brought up, adjusting her hat, "Yamaguchi-chan <i>is</i> a criminal.  A career criminal.  But I'll take you at your word."
"Only one of the others besides her is a criminal.  Kano-kun and Wang-kun are perfectly fine people who just also happen to be... You know?" Tsukune was really not doing a great job of socializing with the woman who he shared an apartment with.  Conversation wasn't a normal thing between them.  Luckily, he would soon be rescued from the situation when one of the aformentioned non-criminals arrived.
"Hello there," Zhou greeted them, sleepily.  He didn't ever seem to be rested.  He had luggage too, a suitcase which he rolled up onto the train platform and immediately sat down on.  He was also making quite the fashion statement; he was wearing a flannel and a t-shirt, and normal shoes, but those were paired with pajama pants and a travel pillow worn like a necklace, "Tsukkun.  Yamaguchi-sama."
"Those are indeed our names," Sayaka noted, turning to him with a scrutinous look, eyebrows raised, "We're going on a train, you know.  The travel pillow really necessary?"
Zhou looked up at the ceiling of the train station, kicking his legs out in front of himself.  He was short enough that he could do that when seated on a rollerbag, though the intelligence of the action seemed a little lacking, "There's a false culture associating travel pillows with air travel specifically.  Travel, implies that they are perfectly acceptable for any and all uses as long as one is moving from one location to another.  It isn't as if nobody ever wants to sleep through a train trip."
"How can we rely on you if you intend to sleep through a train we are leaving on in the mid-morning?" Sayaka demanded, putting her hands on her hips.
Tsukune stepped forward, "I think, maybe, it means we can rely on him more.  If he sleeps a lot now, then he'll be awake during any fights we might get ourselves into, right?"
"Precisely," Zhou pointed at Tsukune, then laughed a bit, "Though I must admit, even I find it annoying how often I'm resting these days.  It doesn't make much sense, I used to be capable of function on only four hours a night, but ever since I made that contract, I just need to sleep all of the time.  I think it's because my intention is to rescue Mayu.  Her favorite thing to do was sleep, so now that's bleeding onto me.  I guess that means my fixation is a little unhealthy..."
"Yeah, whatever.  Unhealthy fixations are commonplace these days.  We got a stalking problem in the country," Sayaka waved it off, "So it's not so weird that you want to save your dead sister.  That's the plot of at least four animes, anyway, so we can let it slide."
"Jeeze, Ruka-san, I told you that we'd be late..." The three who were already at the station turned to see the approach of their final two members, who seemed to have decided to collaborate their travel given that they lived in the same building.
"Kyosuke-san," Yuuri rolled his eyes as he checked the time on his phone, trailing behind, "We're not late.  Everyone else was just early.  Even the human embodiment of oversleeping, somehow."
"Hello," Kyoko waved, "I'm Madara-kun's girlfriend."
"No she's not.  My girlfriend is the video-game recreation of Maki-chan I made using Ambition's spectacular DGF app," Tsukune corrected her in a deadpan, moving to stand in front of her, "This is my roommate.  She's staying on the line at our first transfer, so none of us have to put up with her for very long."
"Sometimes I forget how much of a NEET you are," Sayaka noted, "Then you say shit like that and I remember why I didn't want to work with you in the first place."
"Girls, girls, you're both pretty," Yuuri joked, trying to diffuse the situation, but he somehow only made it worse, in that Tsukune turned away and ran off to stare at the map of the different train lines as if it was a fascinating book.  He looked over at that whole situation with scrutiny before looking back to the others who were still present, "Uh... What'd I say?"
Zhou gave an exaggerated shrug, "Beats the fuck outta me!"
"Oh my God, are you telling me, none of you know?  Holy <i>shit</i>" Kyoko burst out laughing, bending over herself in her raucous cackling, "How don't you know?  I've seen his outfit, you know!  It's a spandex catsuit, and like, this group that has at least two obviously gay men didn't even notice that what should, y'know, be an extra clear package in a catsuit... Isn't?" She turned to Yuuri with a lopsided grin, "Wow, you were just the <i>biggest</i> asshole!"
"Oh, I see," Zhou tilted his head to the side, "Perhaps I am mistaken, seeing as I haven't known him for an especially long time, but it has been long enough that I can honestly say I didn't take him for the type.  Being that, he is such a nihilist I honestly doubted he would have the capacity to care enough about gender dysphoria to act on it.  Clearly I was mistaken."
"Obviously," Kyoko groaned.
"Shit," Yuuri grimaced, still staring over at Tsukune, "Not just caring, caring well enough that none of us could even tell.  And I was just, accidentally, the biggest asshole.  The has-been's right."
"...So you do recognize me," Kyoko froze, glaring at him, "Doesn't matter, you're still worse right now."
"I'm not going to refute that," Yuuri groaned.
Kanoshi looked between everybody, then held his arms close to himself as he wandered over to Tsukune, "Hey, Tsukki.  You know that Ruka-san didn't mean anything, right?  He was quoting a movie to try and get you to stop fighting.  Like a joke."
Tsukune turned to Kanoshi, his one visible eye narrowed and clearly burning with anger, though his voice didn't reflect it at all, "I know he didn't mean anything by it, that doesn't magically make it that I'm not filled with a vicious fury."
"Tsukki-" Kanoshi started again, only to be cut off.
"That's not how this works, Kano-kun.  I'm not mad at Ruka-san, but I am mad, and I need some time to cool down, okay?  I'm sick of this trend of people insulting me without knowing what the Hell they're even saying," He scoffed, "You calling me a mag, Ruka-san calling me a girl.  I'm really goddamn tired of not being able to even be mad <i>at</i> anyone because it's always an accident.  If someone was being an asshole on purpose, I could just set them on fire."
"I... I don't think that's a good solution," Kanoshi mumbled.
Tsukune rolled his eye, "Look, I'd put them <i>out</i> before any permanent damage was done.  Just ,let them experience the feeling of being burned alive for a few seconds.  I can't do that to people who don't mean anything by it, though."
"I can't say I understand your philosophy," Kanoshi shrugged, "But please try not to set anyone on fire on the train at least, okay?  I understand if you'd rather sit alone.  We've already discussed tactics, so it's not important that we all stay together during the travel."
"Yeah, I know," Tsukune nodded, then walked onto the train as it pulled up.  Kanoshi regrouped with the others, and they got onto an entirely different car from Tsukune.  Kyoko slid in next to Sayaka, with her being the only other magica that she actually knew.  Kanoshi sat beside Yuuri, and Zhou sat across the aisle from them and promptly laid his head down on the table in front of himself.  Long-distance trains tended to have those when the subway cars usually didn't.
"So, I got a question," Kyoko started, leaning forward with one hand twirling her hair, "While you hunks are off doing whatever it is you're leaving for, what's Tokyo gonna do if any of those monster things show up?  Aren't you leaving the city totally unprotected?"
"We aren't," Yuuri explained, drumming his fingers against the table, "A few others are covering for us.  Last I heard, it was Fukushima being sent to Tokyo.  She can get backup from nearby cities if anything really bad shows up, too."
"What sort of name is that?  That's distasteful," Kyoko questioned, then shifted in her seat with a smile, "Oh, let me guess her power!  Fukushima must have either earthquake or tsunami powers, right?"
"Close," Zhou answered without lifting his head, "Fukushima can control any water she can visually see, so I guess she could cause a tsunami, explaining the name."
"Wow, okay," Kyoko picked at her nails, "Anyone know who she really is?  I'd like to give her my number."
"She's too old for you," Sayaka answered, tilting her head to the side, "I don't think you ever met her in your brief time at Korekara, actually.  Her name's Kaiba Rokujo.  She's nine years older than me, and my only Onee-san back home."
Kyoko paused, took a slow blink, then stared at Sayaka, "How come your last name is the syndicate's, and hers isn't?  That doesn't make much sense."
"I was an orphan, I didn't have a last name.  I became Yamaguchi when I was adopted," Sayaka explained, shifting, "Kaiba-nee was caught in crossfire.  Her older brother who she was living with picked a fight with the mob, that obviously didn't end well, and she was given the choice to go back to her parents or join.  She chose to join."
"Well, that makes sense," Kyoko nodded, then looked across the table, "Hey, what are your tragic backstories, huh?  Why did you become magical boys?" She then leaned over to shout, "You too, Sleepyhead!"
"My sister died at Korekara, now let me rest," Zhou answered, and that was a satisfactory response.
"I was a middle school teacher..." Kanoshi started to explain.
"Oh, you were at Aoba Public Middle, huh?" Kyoko concluded before he'd even finished, then stretched an arm over the back of her seat, "I heard things about that school.  All sorts of things.  I don't blame you for freaking out after the sort of stuff I've heard goes down  there!"
"...Right," Kanoshi nodded, turning to look out the window, "Yeah, that's true.  Actually, what made me become a magical boy was when I got told I'd be fired at the end of the school year.  Parents were making false correlations between my class and bad things happening to their kids.  Several Korekara victims had been my students before, and those kids who disappeared a few years ago, and with the murders earlier this year... It was too much, I guess."
"It was bullshit, is what it was," Yuuri jumped to his defense, glowering, "With Kyosuke-san gone, there isn't a single good teacher left at that school."
"Oh, goody," Kyoko giggled, leaning in Yuuri's direction now, "Does that have anything to do with <i>your</i> tragic backstory, hot stuff?"
Yuuri rolled his eyes, "I'd appreciate if you didn't call me hot stuff, but yeah, sure, fine.  I'm trouble.  I smoke, and I get in fights, and I'm a disaster, okay?  I'm the one person here who actually fits the profile of who you'd expect to become a magical boy, and that's the extent of what I'll tell you because that's the extent anyone who meets me generally figures out."
Kyoko blinked a few times, then raised her eyebrows, "Huh, so you don't like pretty girls calling you flirty nicknames?"
"I don't like pretty girls, period," Yuuri responded, "Well, I'm sure you're delightful as a friend.  Or not, since Madara-kun doesn't seem to like you much."
"Weird, I could have sworn that out of all of you lot, you'd be the most likely one to be straight.  Or at the very least, bi," Kyoko glanced over to Zhou, "Hey you!  Mister Sandman!  What's your sexual orientation?"
"Tired," Zhou answered with a grumble, sitting back up, "Have enough respect to let me sleep, okay?  Anyway, I used to be bisexual, I guess.  I haven't thought about it in a while.  I've had crushes, and in college I dated a few different people, but I haven't really cared about that sort of thing for a whi- And there you go," Zhou noticed as Kyoko pushed her way past Sayaka, coming to sit down next to him.
"I've always wondered what it would be like to date a magica," Kyoko pressed up against him, "Well, for as long as magica have existed, anyway.  I've had sex with people on drugs before and that was a hoot, so I bet that magic would be even cooler."
"I don't have time for dating right now," Zhou leaned away from her, just bored by her seduction attempts, "I need to spend all my time sleeping, working, and fighting monsters.  That's a very full schedule."
"You have the same job as me!  I have plenty of free time," Kyoko protested, "I mean, I've seen you around.  I fill in on guitar!  You know two instruments, right?  Piano and violin?  You must see more work than me, but that's still not a huge load."
"I sleep at least fourteen hours a day, and that's when I'm especially busy.  It's usually much more," Zhou explained with a laugh, "It's a pain, actually, I think it's because I'm working so hard for Mayu.  I mean, I'd be glad to try going on a date with you once this is all sorted out, but I doubt I'd make for a good dinner conversation partner if I just wanted to go home and sleep the whole time."
"That's good enough for me," Kyoko decided.
"So, Rukkun," Sayaka started, ignoring the one-sided conversation that Kyoko took up with Zhou as he drifted off again, "Your arm.  How's it healing up?  Anything else weird happen with it?"
Yuuri held up his arm, bandage still wrapped around where his mark was, "It's fine.  Healing up no problem, it wasn't a deep cut or anything.  The scab fell off yesterday, but I'm keeping it bandaged just in case until I need to transform.  Oh One said that the only way it would get worse would be if I re-injured it, or if I tried to transform before the injury was fully healed.  Apparently the only time the mark actually gets used is when transforming to magica from human."
"That's good to know," Sayaka nodded, leaning forward, "So if it gets hit in battle, we can technically keep fighting.  We can finish off the fight, anyway, assuming we can get through the pain.  Rukkun, what did you say it felt like again?"
"It felt like every inch of my body all at once was being stabbed by seven simultaneous knives, or you know, something in that neighborhood," He answered, rubbing his fingers against the edge of the bandage, "I don't think anyone would be in a position to continue fighting a monster after experiencing it for even a moment."
"I would be," Sayaka rested her chin in one hand, elbow on the table.  "Kyosuke-kun.  Wouldn't you be?  Wouldn't you fight through the pain for the sake of the rest of us, if you were injured during a really important battle?"
Kanoshi looked over to her, having been invited into the conversation, and shrugged, "I'd definitely try, but I mean, I could probably heal it if it happened during battle.  In order to heal a wound, I need to block a hit with the same level of intent as the one that inflicted it.  I couldn't heal Ruka-san's because there was no way to recreate his intentions, but if it were a monster, I'd just have to block the next hit.  So I guess it would just be the moment, and then I'd fix it, so yeah.  Roundabout, but in the end I would."
"I guess that's true," Sayaka sighed, "Well, it makes sense that I'm the only one strong enough to fight through it without something like that, but it doesn't exactly bode well.  You do realize we're investigating strange monster behaviors?  We have no idea the type of battles we might end up in once we reach Nagasaki."
"Well," Yuuri shifted in his seat, "That's true, but I trust in everyone's abilities.  Plus, I'm getting close to a breakthrough on smokes, I might be able to make a stronger acid that actually has an effect on the monsters, but not on magica or civilians.  It'll take more magic than creating smoke usually does, but I'm sure it would be helpful!"
"Good," Sayaka laughed, "You always were the most useless in combat, for real.  I mean, you're good for what you are, but that baby revolver..."
"Okay, yes, my weapon isn't the best," Yuuri chuckled, shaking his head, "But I'm a good shot, and I'm working to improve upon my magic.I'm just as capable as the rest of you."
"Yeah, that's true," Sayaka agreed, then giggled again, "I'm only teasing, Rukkun!  Besides, you're like, super effective against humans and other magica.  Kyosuke-kun told me all about what you did to Lionhardt, which sounds way more impressive than anything I've seen you pull off against a monster."
"It wasn't that impressive.  I just subdued him," Yuuri shook his head, "We barely engaged, really."
"That's what's impressive about it!" Sayaka insisted, leaning across the table with an enthusiastic smile, "The fact that you were able to finish off the fight so quickly, without doing much at all, is actually really great.  That does take skill.  Sometimes combat doesn't hinge on holding your own throughout, but just one move to prevent a battle before it happens.  That was the sort of thing I had to do all the time when I was a human, and I still do it when I can."
"Well... Thanks?" Yuuri shrugged, "Doesn't feel that way to me, but I guess that's because the type of fights I tend to get into on a human level usually have more honor than that in question.  Like, catching somebody by surprise and ending the fight before it's began is widely regarded as playing dirty.  If anyone catches you fighting like that, you'll have more to deal with than the original one-v-one you avoided."
Sayaka rolled her eyes, "Well, street fighting is different, I guess.  That's like when two cats get in a fight over some roadkill that they found..." She froze, then sighed, "Oh, good grief.  Tanako-chan's rubbing off on me."
"What do you mean?" Kanoshi questioned, furrowing his brow.
"Oh, right," Yuuri turned to Kanoshi to explain, "Kotomi-chan has a thing for cats.  She feeds a lot of strays, and even built a cat playground in a storage unit for the particularly friendly ones.  It's not just her mask design that's cat themed, she really is just... Like that."
"She's my favorite human!" Another voice butted in, and Sayaka looked down to see that Blade had decided to appear in the seat which had previously been occupied by Kyoko, "I don't think she'd make a very good magical girl, since she doesn't care about much and she's already witnessed its horrors firsthand, but she is a great human indeed!"
"Glad to see you could join us, Blade," Sayaka noted, looking down at it, "Weren't you busy with Ribbon Green in San Francisco?"
"I was, but how could I leave my girl to go off into dangerous and trauma-linked territory all on her own?" Blade questioned, jumping up onto the table, "Misa is going to be fine while I'm here.  She's really climbing up those rankings!  She might surpass you soon, you know.  Not that that will change anything.  You're always going to be number one in my book!  I just can't resist your tsundere charms!"
"...Are any of your distributors going to be joining us?" Sayaka questioned of the magical boys across from her, ignoring Blade's comments about the odd friendship that the two of them shared.
"Yes," Yuuri nodded, scratching his neck, "Oh One went with SC to check up on Uamake and Graveyard in Hawaii, but Blem is going to meet us in Nagasaki, and Must Pope will probably join us at one of our transfer stops.  I forget which one."
"I wonder if they'll manage to recruit anybody new while they're at it," Blade commented, looking up at the ceiling, "Those islands could use some extra protection; not that I'm doubting Uamake, but you have to admit, she's got to be tired handling an entire island chain all on her own.  Any monsters that form in the nearby oceans will be going there, too."
"Since when do you encourage Oh One's posse?" Sayaka questioned, glaring at the shitty cat with a click of her tongue, "I thought you had a bitter rivalry."
"Come on, your info's outdated!" Blade protested, "That bitter rivalry was just before Kanoshi Kyosuke became a magical boy.  Since then, I've contracted Ribbon Green and Ribbon Velvet!  Both of them are spectacular, and I think Misa could even reach the top ten!  And Velvet's just the sort of magical girl we needed at a time like this, you know.  Rivalries are silly to have when we're all in a state of confusion and crisis."
"Are you really capable of confusion and crisis?" Yuuri asked, leaning towards the distributor, "I mean, do you have a full range of emotions like humans have?"
"A full range and beyond," Blade answered, "But humans could never understand that.  In any case, we're all very confused, and very in crisis.  Of course we would be, if you think about it.  We've never encountered a mysterious disappearance like these before, let alone the number of them.  Except for Skorgles, who seems to have dropped its compassion somewhere along the line, of course we'd set aside our differences to solve the mystery."
Kanoshi joined the conversation, "You said that Velvet's the type of magical girl needed at a time like this.  What does that mean?  Does she have a special power?"
"Yes, bingo," Blade nodded, looking to Kanoshi as it answered, "Actually, it's useless in combat.  She's making a website, though.  She's clairvoyant towards monsters.  Being, she can tell when, where, and what level monsters are going to spawn.  We're working with a human friend of hers to create an easy web interface to RSVP to certain battles, sorted by level, area, and of course, calendar date and time of day.  After that first level eight, and with magic's best all missing, it's a much-needed creation."
Yuuri blinked a few times, "Hey, that's exactly what I've been all freaked out about!  It took so much work from such powerful magica to take down that first one.  Fizzy Pop and Horace were both involved, and they're both gone.  I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to take down something so strong without them..."
"Everyone's getting better every day, and we're still making new magica," Blade answered, swishing its tail, "And with Velvet giving everyone a chance to know about it and plan, that makes it easier.  The magica of sixteen different distributors can involve themselves in battle with a level eight and still get rewards, and if a bunch of magica all know, for example, that a level eight is spawning in Brazil in four months, they can plan around that.  Quantity over quality can still save the day."
"That's a good point," Yuuri agreed, then pulled his phone from his pocket, frowning as he muttered at it, "Jesus Christ, Yamada.  I can't cover for your shift, I got this time off for a reason and that reason was not so that I'd be free to relieve your lazy ass of Saturday evening duty..."
"I should get a job," Sayaka noted, looking up at the ceiling wistfully, "I'd love to be able to angrily mutter out loud at unfortunate texts from my coworkers."
"Very funny," Yuuri rolled his eyes as he tapped away at his phone with his thumbs, giving back a response that was a somewhat more polite version of the gripes he had.
Sayaka paused, then tilted her head to the side, "Oh, no, I'm being serious.  I don't get hired for any hit jobs these days, so it gets a little... boring.  Not that I don't love living with Tanako-chan, but she won't take me along on transport jobs or anything, so I don't have anything to fill up my days," She pouted as she leaned on the table again, "Plus, I'm still just sixteen.  I went to school in the first place to try and experience normal childhood, but that didn't pan out.  Part time jobs are another normal part of growing up, though, so maybe I should experience it."
"If you have the opportunity to not work a part time job, I would absolutely not recommend that you do," Yuuri shook his head with a bitter chuckle, "Anyone who never has to spend a single moment in customer service is somebody whose life should be the envy of everybody."
"Heh," Sayaka laughed, then looked up as she felt the train stopping.  She pulled out a small notebook from her pocket, then returned it as she stood up, shifting her bag, "Sorry Blade, no room for you in here, you'll have to walk across the station.  This is our first transfer.  After this, we have about a five-hour stretch on the same train before we need to transfer a few more times on some shorter distances," The others followed her, and she tapped Zhou as she passed by him to get his attention.  He wiped the sleep from his eyes and joined his fellow magical boys in following her, "I hope that Madara-kun knows this is where we're transferring..."
"Don't worry, he'll catch up to us," Kanoshi noted with a slight, quiet laugh, "Tsukki's good like that.  He's very reliable.  He's the only person I've ever met who has never had his LP sitting on full."
Sayaka shook her head with a groan, "As if I'd know what that means.  Whatever, I'll take you at your word."